There is nothing like an event to get you motivated to sort out a few things. In this case, the Early 911 breakfast club was going to join the local Reisentoter PCA chapter breakfast. Since they were starting at 9:30am, which is practically midday for the breakfast club, Lee Giannone had the brilliant idea of an earlier scenic drive to arrive at the chapter breakfast. What does this have to do with the 914 ? Glad you asked. Since this was to be a more leisurely drive, and I needed an extended shakedown run, I decided that I would take the 914 on its longest journey yet. The starting point was about sixty miles away, and then with the drive and the return home it would be about a 200 mile day.

There were a few obstacles to overcome. First the logistics of the thanksgiving weekend. Second, the car needed a valve adjustment, and I had pulled the points but got no further on installing the Pertronix unit that I had. Third, it was going to be around 30 degrees with a high in the 40s, and I had no heat in the car. Fourth, the starter was acting lazily sometimes which could mean the solenoid or the starter itself was on the way out. Fifth, the rear valance needed a hole drilled for the last attachment point. I keep forgetting to take care of that after the shakedown runs. Thursday and Friday were out for working on the car because of Thanksgiving. That left Saturday to get a bunch of changes made for the drive on Sunday.

Now I know what you are thinking… Doesn’t this break the rules established by your Concentric Circles Theory, not to mention common sense ? Well yes, it does. In fact, in this case, the formula FP=0.5D-NT should be modified to read FP=0.5D-NT+HT where the HT stands for hypothermia. However, I had experience, wisdom, and cunning on my side…well experience anyway.

On Thanksgiving day, it snowed almost an inch, but fortunately it was not cold enough for it to stick around. On Friday, there were flurries. Saturday was bright and sunny, but still cold. In the garage, I got down to business. I adjusted the valves while the engine was cold, and then reinstalled the points and made sure that the timing was spot on. Then I yanked the points and condenser and installed the pertronix unit and the 0.6 ohm coil. The car fired right up and was noticeably smoother. Same lazy starter, but so far, so good. On to the heat. The heat exchangers were on the car, but not connected to the heat tubes running through the sills. It should be a simple affair to find the pieces, get things reattached, and Bob’s your uncle.

Or not. I found both heater valves, but only one of the two hoses. I searched and searched and went through the 911 stuff, and built up a volcano of frustration. There is nothing worse than knowing you have something and not being able to find it. It is worse if you think you are organized. Now these are not the ordinary paper-based heater hoses that you can find at Autozone. AAARRRGGHHH !! I was about to resign myself to half the heat, when a thought hit me and I raced to the basement to check another location. I tend to keep the leftover bits and pieces for cars I no longer own way longer than makes sense. They go from specific bins labeled for the car, to bins with many cars labeled on them. Eventually, the consolidation of bins just descends into ones labeled miscellaneous. But I digest…In the bin labeled 230SL/Ghia/Bug was a heater hose. Why I remembered that one was in there I don’t know, but there it was. Once I installed the hoses, I discovered that I was missing the hardware that attaches the heater cables to the valves. Now I know I have these, but I creatively used some zip ties because the volcano was already bubbling, and it would not survive another search without erupting and having me end up on the news.

“This just in, a man burns down his entire neighborhood because he misplaced $5 worth of hardware. He was apprehended by police after a five state rampage of hardware stores. Story at eleven.”

I decided that the starter and the valance would wait for another day.

It was still dark when I woke up on Sunday. I threw the points and condenser into the travelling tool bag, and checked the lights. After replacing a burned out side marker light all was well, and I headed out. The car was running beautifully, and once warmed up even the off-idle dip was much better. After a short while I opened up the heater valve, and there was ….wait for it….. heat !! Good Gravy Gordon, we would not freeze to death afterall. But wait, not so fast with the irrational exuberance, for along with the heat came the wonderful bouquet of …wait for it again….burning Castrol. I dismissed this as a drop or two of oil in and around the heat exchangers, since as all vintage vehicle owners know (particularly if you like british iron ;-), it only takes a little oil to make lots of smell and smoke.  My theory seemed correct, because as I got on the interstate, the fragrance dissipated and I rocketed along exceeding 100MPH for about 30 seconds on two separate occasions. The car was rock solid, and the noise from the thinly carpeted firewall behind my head was musical. There is nothing like doing 100 before breakfast. It just starts your day off right. As I approached the pre-rendezvous point, the car dropped into a comfortable idle with the tach pointing steadily at 900 RPM.

The pre-rendezvous group gathered and then we set off for the main starting point. The car started easily, and continued to run very well. I was admiring the performance, and at the first exit ramp I was demonstrating the superior handling of the go-cart 914, even over the my beloved 911. As I straightened up, the Castrol fragrance returned with a vengeance, and behind me, a large chemical factory was on fire and billowing smoke. It turns out that this factory was mobile, and was following closely behind me. Ed wisely dropped back along with the rest of the convoy to leave enough room to see the highway. A half mile later, the smoke and the fragrance was gone. Then with the next off-ramp the smell and the smoke were both back. Mercifully, we were soon on local roads with no turns at speed.  At the rendezvous point, the 914 was the lone non-911 and we had a good chuckle about my james-bond-like smoke screen. I checked the oil level, and it was fine, proving that Castrol is superior in the critical smoke-per-ml performance category.

A smoke-free 914 sandwich. Photo by Mark Morrissey

914 Heat -Virtually unchanged since the 1930sAt this point, I knew what the problem was. As stated previously (Theory of Oil Retention), VW and Porsche have conveniently located the most leak-prone fitting on the engine (the valve covers which by the way have just a compression clamp on the 914) facing sideways right above the glowing hot exhaust. Then, they retain a heating system which uses the heated air around the exhaust and brings it into the cabin. Brilliant. I love these cars and these engines, but you never know what will come wafting into the cabin if your car is not meticulous underneath. In the case of my 914 on this day, whenever centrifugal force sent lots of oil against the driver’s side valve cover, it leaked enough onto the heat exchangers to produce lots of smoke. This was probably happening all along, but this was the first time the car was driven this hard for this long. In addition, because I had now gone through so much trouble to connect the heater hoses, the smoke made its’ way right into the cabin. Thankfully, it was a little warmer by now, and I left the heater valves closed, and the windows a few inches open. However the heater valves are not air-tight seals, so a hint of fragrance remained for the duration. I wisely decided to bring up the rear for the rest of the ride. It was a nice route, and the reasonable pace meant that the car was rarely producing the kind of smoke seen previously.

At the breakfast stop I checked the oil again and it was still fine. After some French Toast with a the crew, I headed for home. The car started lazily after the long cool down, but continued to run great. However, I tended to go easy in the corners. Back at home, and up on the jack, it was obvious that the valve cover was the source of the leak. I pulled the cover and the gasket appeared to be seated slightly askew in one lower corner. You always feel good when you find what you believe to be the root cause. You feel even better when the fix is cheap and easy. I went searching for the new gaskets that I knew I had and found them in one of the bins labeled 914. All was right with the world. After cleaning things up I installed a new one. While finishing up, I brushed the lower valance and it vibrated to remind me that it still needed to be secured. I also saw the zip ties on the heater valves. I got the wire cutters and snipped them leaving the valves closed. We don’t need no steenkin heat.

4 Replies to “Fragrance of Castrol”

  1. Dear Wayne:

    As you are aware, my mechanical abilities are limited. But the day the Mac-Pac gathered in Montgomeryville for some event, I found myself pulling the ton for a stretch — before breakfast. You are correct in that it is a great feeling. I forget what state I was in, but a buddy behind me, also on a K75, noted it was the first time he'd gone 55mph over the speed limit.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  2. You should be glad that you got heat at all !! That VW heating system never worked well even when new on my beetle. And forgeddaboudit in a bus 😉 Great article again.

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